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Have you started your taxes?

5 March 2015

Get started on your taxes

I don’t know where the year has gone so far, but it hit me this morning as I was making coffee that I’d better get started on my taxes! My niece and nephew will be visiting from Australia from April 2 to 12 and I leave for the NAPO conference on April 14, so I really need to file my taxes this month.

It’s not that I haven’t done anything at all: I bought TurboTax last month, so that was a baby step in the right direction. I’ve kept all my tax-related documents together as they’ve come in. And all my bookkeeping for 2014 is completed. But I haven’t started entering any data into TurboTax yet.

Why do I delay starting this particular task? I think, as in most procrastination, it boils down to fear. I’m afraid it’s going to be hard or that I’ll hit a glitch. I’m afraid I’ll discover that I owe money. I’m a little afraid that since I upgraded my operating system to Yosemite I’ll have some sort of technological problem (my least favorite kind of problem).

I’ve discovered over the years that delaying starting your taxes because of fear does me no good at all. Back in the first few years of this century I filed extensions. I’m here to tell you that only extends the misery. I know it will feel great to get the taxes filed, whether or not I owe money. (I’ve been diligent about estimated taxes, so don’t think I will.)

So right here and now I vow to spend at least an hour getting started on taxes on Saturday. (I know that getting past the barrier of getting started is a huge step. Once I’m started, I’ll be much more inclined to continue.) I also vow to make taxes my focus on Sunday. This is the last weekend until the very end of the month where I don’t have to work, so I need to make it count.

I’ll also reward myself for my hard work on Sunday. I think that reward might take the form of binge watching Downton Abbey while knitting on Sunday evening.

If you haven’t started your taxes yet, I encourage you to take a baby step in that direction this week. There may be more than a month before the April 15 deadline, but it will be here before you know it!

Photo by Ken Teegardin of SeniorLiving.org via Flickr.

Worth repeating: Accepting help

2 March 2015

I originally wrote this post in 2013. In my life anyway, it’s more true now than ever. Yesterday I hired someone to shovel our walks and alley after about four inches of snow fell. What a relief that was! There is so much help offered out there. We can all benefit by accepting it.

Sometimes I wonder why it is so hard for most of us to accept help. By the time I’m called into a client’s home, she (or, sometimes, he) typically has contemplated hiring me for weeks, months, or years. And typically that time is filled with guilt, self-recrimination and stress.

The reluctance to accept help isn’t limited to hiring someone, though. I’ve observed that it can be difficult to ask for help from friends or family members or even accept help when it’s offered.

Accepting help is a big part of how I try to let my life be easy. There are many things I’m not good at that my friends are. For example, my friend, Sally picks out all my wall paint colors. I’m absolutely inept at that. I’m a bit color-challenged, I’m easily overwhelmed by too many choices and I lack confidence in my design abilities. Sally is great at it and loves doing it. Hooray!

My friend Geralin helps me with sticky wardrobe choices. If I’m going on TV, I call Geralin for advice on what to wear and how to accessorize. If I want to knit myself something, I’ll check with her to make sure she thinks the sweater would be flattering on me. (One time she replied with a succinct “Not on my watch!”) Geralin is great at this and it seems as natural to her as breathing. Why wouldn’t I ask her help?

I have a wonderful housecleaner who comes every week. He does a much better job than I ever would and he relieves me of a dreaded task. Same goes with the guy who mows our lawn.

I no longer have a problem accepting help, whether hired or gifted. I know I love helping people, so I believe my friends when they say they want to help me. I have no trouble charging my clients for my help, so I have no difficulty paying others for theirs.

Is there anything in your life you’d benefit from getting help on? Ask for it!

The ultimate relaxing experience

26 February 2015

Two years ago, I was introduced by friend, Shannon Wilkinson to flotation therapy. I blogged about it in a post called Floating with my thoughts.

Since then I’ve floated two more times in Portland (at Float On and The Float Shoppe). Each time it’s been wonderful. I always come up with great ideas while floating and when I’m through, I feel completely relaxed, as though I’d just had the most wonderful massage imaginable.

I remember commenting to Shannon that I wished there were a place to float in St. Louis and, if there were, I’d probably go once a month. That’s how valuable it felt to me.

Well, my wish has come true. It feels like a miracle. Just this week, F.LO.A.T. opened in midtown St. Louis, at 3027 Locust Street. It was created by three therapists and float enthusiasts, one of whom, Kevin McCulloch, is a friend of mine. I was over the moon ecstatic when I heard it was coming.

On Monday, Kevin treated me to a float and it did not disappoint. F.LO.A.T. has two types of tanks. One they call the At Peace Float Spa; that’s what I experienced this week. They also have the Genesis Pod.

In the At Peace Spa, the tank is like a very large bathtub, enclosed to the ceiling. It has a door in it like a shower stall door. You open the door and step into the 10 inches or so of heavily salted water where float effortlessly. Once I turned off the light from inside the tank I was in utter, complete darkness. And I heard no sounds. As I floated, I barely felt the water that was supporting me. I felt weightless. It’s hard to describe how cozy and relaxing that is.

In addition to feeling relaxed, I also had the opportunity to do some deep thinking, without any type of distraction. That is a true rarity in my life (and I bet yours). I always experience significant insights while floating.

After 90 minutes of floating, I was signaled that time was up by the light in the room slowly being turned on, making the tank door glow. It was very gentle. Right outside the tank is a shower. I showered off the salt, dressed and joined my friend, Jeannette, who had also just floated. We were two extremely mellow women, enjoying some water in the comfy sitting area. (Jeannette is a writer for St. Louis magazine and wrote this great blog post on her floating experience that day.)

Here’s a photo of the float room at F.LO.A.T. (The tank is inside that shower door.)

Float room at F.L.O.A.T.

The other type of tank they have, the Genesis Pod is a smaller, womb-like space. At the Float Shoppe, I floated in a similar pod and it was a great experience, too. I look forward to trying out the Genesis Pod. Here’s a photo of it:

The Genesis Pod at F.L.O.A.T.

At F.LO.A.T., a 90-minute float costs $65, comparable to a massage. Will I do it monthly as I’d hoped? I do believe I will. So far, I have dates booked in March and April. They have memberships for frequent floaters that make the floating even less expensive. You can bet I’ll be taking advantage of that.

If you are in St. Louis, I hope you check this out. I remember that it felt like a leap of faith the first time I tried floating. Though Shannon had described it to me, I had trouble visualizing what the experience would be like. I’m so glad I trusted Shannon and just gave it a try.

If you have questions about it, feel free to ask in the comments.

P.S. In case you were wondering, I learned from Jeannette’s blog post that F.LO.A.T.‘s wackily punctuated acronym stands for “For. LOving. Antigravity. Timelessness.”

Your memory is a terrible thing to rely on

23 February 2015

Rely on technology, not your memory

When I was in my twenties, I had a mind like a steel trap. Oh, the things I could keep in there and recall in a nanosecond! It made me a valuable employee; my ability to keep details straight and handle logistics well allowed me to work on some great projects. (For example, I organized—and attended—small conference in Africa with participants from all over the world. I put it together from my office in Washington, D.C., and this was before the internet.)

Now that I’m in my fifties, my memory is a shadow of its former self. But I’m lucky: in the intervening three decades, technology has emerged that helps me compensate. There’s no need to store things in my brain. I can write everything down and access it instantly using the app of my choice. That frees my brain for more important things.

Here are the apps I use most:

  • Calendar on my Mac and devices; iCloud syncs them seamlessly
  • Reminders, the built-in iOS app that I typically access with Siri
  • Things my latest favorite task list app (I promise a future blog post on it.)
  • Evernote for keeping track of notes, lists, and websites. I use the desktop app, as well as the iOS app on my iPhone and iPad.

I know there are many, many apps from which to choose. These work for me, so I’m not exploring others at the moment. But you may be using different apps that suit your needs, which is great.

But there’s a huge caveat here. In order for this to work, you have to actually look at your apps. You can’t just deposit stuff and ignore it. It’s like the Action Box I suggest clients use to handle their incoming mail…it doesn’t work if you just put stuff in, you have to go through it on a regular basis and keep it lean. (You can learn more about the Action Box in my Organizing Guide called LOVE IS FOREVER (STAMPS): how to fall back in love with snail mail.)

I’m still working on this, but the key (for me, anyway) is to create a daily habit of looking at my calendar and my Things task list on a daily or twice-daily basis. First thing in the morning and at the end of the work day is sufficient, though on days that I spend a lot of time at my desk I’m looking at them a lot more. I look at Evernote on an as-needed basis. Reminders come to me, so I don’t have to remember to look at them. Creating the habit of looking at my calendar and task list means that I don’t have to remember to look at my lists. Again, freeing up my brain for more important things.

In December 2012, Lifehacker published an article called How I Learned to Rely on my Memory and Stop Depending on Technology, that is the antithesis of what I’m talking about here. I re-read it just now and it made me squirm to even think of trying that experiment.

I am so happy that I have technology to help me make up for the deficits in my memory. Depositing everything into my apps makes my mind clearer. And, I feel, it makes me happier and more productive. I love that.

Photo by Hey Paul Studios via Flickr.

Special offer for early registrants to Get Back on Track!

16 February 2015

As I mentioned here before, my amazing friend and life coach Shannon Wilkinson is coming to St. Louis in mid-March and we’re putting on a fun in-person workshop called Get Back on Track on Saturday, March 14.

Because we want to get a good head count to reserve the venue, we’re offering a little incentive to register early. Those who register on or before February 27 will receive a special bonus of our downloadable kit, Why Resolutions Don’t Work—and How to Get What You Want Anyway.

The kit sells for $19. The workshop itself is only $34. So if you register by February 27, it’s like getting to spend an amazing 90 minutes with Shannon and me for only $15! Best deal of the year so far, hands down.

I’d love to see you at this workshop—we’ll be there to answer your questions about how to set, keep going or get back on track for your 2015 goals. Shannon’s coaching techniques are amazing (they feel like magic) and participants will have the opportunity to get coached live during this workshop.

So check it out and register while the getting is good!

A simpler way to file paid bills

12 February 2015

I’m in Salt Lake City attending a genealogy conference. Last night I had dinner in the hotel and struck up a conversation with a woman sitting near me at the bar. Naturally, we started talking about organizing (as one does at bars) and she confessed that her biggest challenge was staying on top of the filing. I suggested that she file her paid bills by month and she found that suggestion revelatory! This morning, I thought I’d blog about it, because it had such an impact on her. A quick search revealed I’d done just that on October 24, 2011. So rather than reinvent the wheel, I decided to repeat that post. Here it is, as relevant as ever.

Do you hang on to the paper bills that your creditors send you after you pay them? (Do you even receive your bills in the mail anymore?) A certain percentage of my clients have either gone paperless or automatically shred the bills after paying.

But a larger number of clients (and my family as well) receive most of their bills in the mail and hang on to the paid bills for at least awhile. Most of those clients, at the time I meet them, are doing what I used to do: they’re filing the paid bills by payee. (All the electric bills together, all the credit-card bills together, etc.) Or, more accurately, they’re letting the paid bills pile up because it’s such a pain to file them by payee. (I used to do that, too!)

What I recommend — and I got this idea from Freedom Filer — is instead of filing paid bills by payee, file them by month paid. Freedom Filer has labels for odd year and even year months, which allows you to keep a two-year backlog. (That’s what I do.) But a one-year backlog for non-tax-related documents is almost certainly sufficient.

Here’s what you do:

  1. Label a dozen hanging file folders, one for each month of the year.
  2. Create another hanging file folder (or folders) for tax-related documents.
  3. When you pay bills, separate out any that can serve as documentation for a tax deduction. (This is particularly important for those of us who write off home offices.) Put those in the tax file.
  4. Drop the rest of the papers in the file corresponding to the month in which you’re paying them.
  5. After you’ve done this for a year, you’ll find the monthly file full of last year’s bills when you go to file. Simply pull out the contents and shred them. Drop the current month’s bills into the file, where they’ll stay for a year.

It’s that simple! I also put my receipts (again, non-tax-related) in the monthly files, as well as bank statements from my husband’s and my joint checking account. I’ve been doing this four about four years now and have yet to have it cause any problems. I so very rarely need to find anything in the files, but when I do it’s not difficult to find.

One note about tax-related documents: If you don’t keep track of your expenses electronically, you might want to create a series of category-related tax files to make it easier at tax time. Or just do a big sort at tax time.

This method of filing paid bills is so much less time consuming than filing by payee that the “To File” pile becomes a thing of the past. If you’re hanging on to your paid bills, I urge you to give it a try.

Worth repeating: You can learn to be organized

9 February 2015

I wrote the post below in June 2013. Reading that yearbook inscription still cracks me up. And makes me proud that I’ve learned to be organized.

Some people are born organized. I know a lot of folks like that, since I hang around with professional organizers. Other people weren’t born organized, but they’ve learned to be organized.

I’m living proof that you can learn to be organized. Let me tell you a little story.

In May, I was contacted on Facebook by one of my high school teachers. He’d been the advisor to the school newspaper. My senior year I was the editor of the school newspaper. Being in touch with him made me pull out my yearbook (which at my high school we called an “annual”).

I turned to the page in the yearbook that featured the school newspaper staff. There we were, sitting around our typewriters. Next to a picture I was in, my teacher had written the following:

Janine, thank you for helping me make it through my first year as Journal advisor. I don’t think I helped you to be any more organized or any neater—but I tried!

That cracked me up when I read it. I don’t actually have any recollection of being particularly disorganized or messy in high school, but it was apparently my defining characteristic, as far as this teacher was concerned.

Through the years, I didn’t let my messiness get in the way of my success. I read and read about organizing techniques and managed to teach myself to be organized. (All along, I was organized in my mind…it was the physical manifestation that was out of kilter.)

When I got burned out as a freelance writer back in 2005, I decided it was time to teach others what I’d learned about getting organized. And now, I make a nice living doing that.

So I went from being an apparently disorganized and messy high school student to being a professional organizer who’s helped hundreds of people get organized. If I can get that organized, so can you.

Don’t think that just because you’re not organized now, you never can be. If you’re dealing with a lot of clutter, the first step is getting rid of the backlog. Once that’s done, it’s a matter of setting up systems that work for the way you think and then creating new habits and routines to help you stay organized.

If you set your mind to it, you can learn to be organized!

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